Invite Us to the Party: Planning Corporate Events to Reach Generations X and Y

September 1, 2008


By Jamie Vollmer

She’s the young executive at the end of the conference table, taking notes while secretly text messaging her friends about the weekend. He’s the newest VP, leading the account but ready to send out his resume at the hint of company downsizing.  Generations X and Y are in America’s workforce. In fact, for the first time, these two generations make up more than 50% of our country’s workers. If they aren’t already changing the way your company operates, look out. In the coming years, their unique sense of doing business will be changing the way we all look at our professional lives.

For Generations X and Y, corporate events are more important than ever before.

“Both of those generations are event driven,” says Jason Dorsey, a member of Generation Y as well as an expert on the generation and a best-selling author. “We drive cross-country to go to a concert. We can’t wait to go to the new restaurant. We’re very much social people, and we want to go out and be a part of something.”

Generation X is already playing a role in corporate events. They have an established place on the planning committees and, through years of experience, have learned the rules of successfully attending corporate events.

Up until a few years ago, Generation Y was merely a speck on the horizon. Today, as they rise above intern status and begin establishing themselves in the workforce, it is time to attend to their needs at corporate events. They are excited about the prospect of corporate events, but not exactly sure about the unspoken rules of attending this working world essential.

Defining a Generation

For decades each generation entering the workforce has brought with them shared experiences and a common perspective. Dorsey lends his guidance about distinguishing a generation, “When you look at what defines a generation, you have four factors that stand out. Most important are parenting tracks, how the generation was raised. Second is technology. The third is economics and the fourth is lifespan.”

Dorsey also advises a close examination of the pivotal moments that occur in the generation’s early years. These historic incidents, shared at approximately the same point in the maturing process, shape who the generation is going to be.

Generation X: Already in the Boardroom

Generation X, defined loosely as individuals born between the years 1965 and 1977, have already established themselves in the corporate world. Many are now in positions of leadership, bringing with them their own perspective and ideals.

“While Gen X was in their formative years, they watched their moms and dads get downsized, laid off or otherwise lose long-term employment through no fault of their own,” comments Phil Bruno, President of “Treat ‘em Right Seminars,” who travels the country engaging Generations X and Y in discussions about their role in the workplace.

This left the generation entering the workforce fearful and skeptical − skeptical about the promises employers make and fearful about how companies would treat them. It is an entire generation ready to jump ship when times get tough at the office.

Job security has a unique meaning for this generation. According to Dorsey, “Generation X creates job security by learning new skills. What skills give them are options, and what options give them is the security they want.”

Generation X has already taken business in a positive direction.  They are the first generation to understand technology and use it comfortably in the workplace. This is also the generation responsible for work-life balance. After seeing their parents devote their lives to corporate America, often at the expense of their families, friends and personal health, Generation X took a stand for the positive co-existence of work and life.

While many companies are already creating events that meet the needs of Generation X, there are a couple ideas to remember. Family is incredibly important to this generation, as many are in the child-rearing stage of their lives. So create event options that will meet the needs of kids and adults alike.

Building up their skill set is also vital. Conferences that offer certification courses or educational sessions that will teach useful career skills will be well attended. So be sure to publicize the educational benefits of an event as early as possible.

Generation Y: No Longer Just the Intern

Generation Y, born between 1977 and 1995, was raised by Baby Boomers who worked hard to ensure that their children’s lives would be better than their own.  This is the first generation born with the concept of instant gratification − microwaves cooked dinner in minutes, ATMs spit out money with the push of a button and hundreds of cable channels guaranteed entertainment 24 hours a day.

After college, many in Generation Y moved home, becoming what experts call “adultolescents.” They seek out jobs in the real world, but live with the safety net of knowing mom and dad are there to help with the difficulties of day-to-day life. Having been raised with the idea of careers not being about money, but instead about personal fulfillment, career choices take on a greater importance. This supportive and perhaps co-dependent upbringing left many in Generation Y with a strong sense of entitlement which is carrying over into the workplace.

Generation Y builds on the skeptical foundation Generation X established. They are entering the workforce with no plans of working for the same company their entire life. In fact, if they stick around for more than a year, they consider themselves incredibly loyal.

Events can play an important role in connecting this generation with the company, its leadership and even their fellow employees. For example taking the time to have a boss personally invite a young employee to a corporate event can help bond them to the organization and creates the feeling of inclusion Generation Y is desperately seeking.

Another way to provide a feeling of inclusion is to invite them to be part of the planning process. “Including them in planning committees is wise. Not listening to them on those committees is not,” comments Bruno.

Bruno shares a quote from an anonymous member of Generation Y about her experience on event planning committees:

“One thing I have noticed from the committees that I have been on is that the older groups that have been on the committees for a while are not influenced easily and are hard to open their minds to the new ideas. They tell me to think out of the box, but they ARE the box.”

It is important for event planners to understand that Generation Y is creative, ambitious, tech-savvy and socially conscious. This generation is looking for ways to connect with higher management and company leaders in a safe way. Incorporating ice breakers into networking and social events that allow and, at times, force this generation to reach outside their comfort zone will help them interact with all levels of employees.

Dorsey advises companies to limit the talk, drop staged PowerPoint presentations and up the creativity and crowd participation at events. Generation Y has a short attention span so mix-up long panel discussions with crowd competitions and frequent breaks. Use skits, songs, videos and comedy to convey the message while keeping the crowd entertained.

Generation Y values the feeling of fulfillment and gratification that comes from giving back. “Have a volunteer event during the event; maybe you offer recycling, maybe you have a paperless conference,” comments Dorsey. “Anything like this that shows you have a mission that is going to be meaningful.”

This generation is not only about giving back, but also about making active, healthy choices. Meeting planners can reach out to Generation Y by making menu decisions that include healthy foods and vegetarian options.  Also choose locations that allow participants to get out of the hotel and into the community for exercise, shopping and other down-time recreation.

A Helping Hand

Since Generation Y is relatively new to the workforce, the group values guidance on the unwritten rules of attending corporate events. Dorsey recommends circulating an e-mail throughout the company from someone with three to five years experience, sharing a few recommendations or a Top Ten list on getting the most from a corporate event. It is important to touch on topics such as what to expect from the event, how to dress, how to pick educational sessions and basic etiquette. These young professionals may not realize the importance of asking questions, not skipping sessions, taking notes, turning off their cell phones and bringing business cards. Keep in mind what many of us learned through trial and error is an opportunity for connection with this younger generation.

Many of the preferences and ideas Generations X and Y bring to the table appeal to multiple audiences. Few conference attendees would choose another dull presentation over a video or comedy sketch. The passion, balance, creativity, vibrancy and technological advancements these generations can provide are a breath of fresh air for the corporate event industry. When meeting planners understand Generation X and Y, they will have the opportunity to create superior events that speak to all generations. MM&E

(Jamie Vollmer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)

Jason Ryan Dorsey

The Gen Y Guy

(512) 259-6877 • [email protected]

Phil Bruno

Treat ‘em Right Seminars

(314) 846-9139 • [email protected]

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